Washington, DC, October 25, 2005 - On a unanimous vote, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) today issued two new urgent safety recommendations in its investigation of the March 2005 refinery disaster at BP Texas City, calling for the safer placement of trailers for workers at petrochemical facilities throughout the U.S.
The full text of the Board's resolution issuing the new recommendations was posted on the agency's website, www.csb.gov.
In the incident at BP Texas City, fifteen workers died in and around trailers that were located too close to hazardous process equipment that released flammable hydrocarbons during startup. The urgent recommendations were announced in advance of an October 27 Board public meeting in Texas City concerning the BP investigation.
The Board directed the urgent recommendations to two leading national trade organizations, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), which represent most major domestic oil and petrochemical producers. API develops recommended safety practices that influence operations at thousands of petrochemical facilities around the country.
The first recommendation calls on API to develop new industry guidance "to ensure the safe placement of occupied trailers and similar temporary structures away from hazardous areas of process plants." The Board noted that the existing safety guidance, API Recommended Practice 752, does not prohibit the placement of trailers in close proximity to hazardous process units. The guidance, entitled "Management of Hazards Associated with Location of Process Plant Buildings," is widely used by U.S. oil and chemical companies to assess siting hazards, a regulatory requirement under OSHA's Process Safety Management standard.
"We are calling on the industry to establish minimum safe distances for trailers to ensure the safety of occupants from fire and explosion hazards," said CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt. "The tragedy at BP's Texas City refinery warrants changes in safe siting practices across the nation." Under Board procedures, the requested measures should be completed within 12 months, at which time the Board will consider closing the recommendation based on "acceptable" or "unacceptable" actions by the recipients.
On March 23, 2005, fifteen workers were killed and more than 170 were injured when explosions and fire erupted during the restarting of a process unit at BP's Texas City refinery, the third largest in the U.S. All of the fatalities occurred in and around a group of nine trailers involved in maintenance work unrelated to the restart. Some trailers were as close as 121 feet from the unit that experienced the release of flammable hydrocarbons. Over 40 trailers were damaged in the incident.
As currently written, API 752 allows individual companies to define their own risk and occupancy criteria for trailers. Prior to March 23, BP had defined trailers used for short periods of time as posing little or no danger to occupants and approved the location of the trailers at the Texas City facility.
According to findings accompanying the Board's urgent recommendation, the explosions in Texas City injured workers in trailers as far as 480 feet from the source of the release, and trailers up to 600 feet away were heavily damaged. Subsequent to the incident, BP announced it would relocate trailers at least 500 feet away from potential hazards and move nonessential workers into office space outside the refinery.
"In many cases, trailers are positioned for convenience during maintenance and are not essential for facility operations," Merritt said. "They can be easily relocated to safe distances." Merritt noted that the permanent buildings in refineries and chemical plants are often heavily reinforced to resist blast and fire damage, while most trailers and temporary structures provide little protection for occupants.
A separate urgent recommendation, directed jointly to API and NPRA, called on the organizations to immediately contact their members urging "prompt action to ensure the safe placement of occupied trailers away from hazardous areas of process plants," before the new API safety guidance is completed.
The recommendations were only the second and third designated as "urgent" of more than 300 issued in the Board's eight-year history. The CSB's first urgent recommendation, issued on August 15, 2005, called on BP to form an independent panel to examine its safety culture and oversight of its five North American refineries. On Monday, BP announced formation of the independent panel, chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems, regulations, and industry standards.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.
For more information, contact Daniel Horowitz at (202) 261-7613 / (202) 441-6074 (cell) or Sandy Gilmour at (202) 261-7614 / (202) 251-5496 (cell).